New Law Removes Palestinian Building Petitions Out of High Court’s Hands

YERUSHALAYIM -
A view of the High Court building in Yerushalayim.

The Knesset on Tuesday approved on its second and third reading a law that will allow legal matters in Yehudah and Shomron on planning and construction to be heard in district courts, as opposed to being adjudicated in the High Court, as they are today. Under the law, Palestinians who claim that land Israelis built homes on actually belongs to them will have to take their claims to the Yerushalayim District Court, as opposed to the High Court, as has been the case until now.

The law is an amalgam of proposals by MK Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Shaked said that “the festival of High Court petitions by Palestinians and leftist groups against Israelis who live in Yehudah and Shomron ends today. From now on, those groups will have to pass through the Israeli legal system with all its requirements, as everyone else has to.”

The law is based on a measure passed in the year 2000 that promises Israelis who face legal challenges on matters of construction and planning the opportunity to appeal decisions that go against them, a law that has been upheld by the High Court several times. Until now, that law did not apply to Judea and Samaria; there, residents were forced to take their issues directly to the High Court, whose decision is final and does not generally allow for appeals.

In addition, because the court’s calendar is so crowded, issues of less importance, such as individual appeals and lawsuits, often found them pushed back on the court’s calendar, and some cases lingered for years before being heard, Shaked said. As Israeli citizens, residents of Judea and Samaria are entitled to the same legal treatment as residents of Israel who live within the 1948 borders – hence the proposal, he said.

While the law will be important for individuals who have legal issues surrounding additions or changes in their homes, its greatest utility will be in issues of Palestinians challenging Israeli construction on land they claim, she said. As soon as such cases are heard by the High Court, it usually issues an injunction against further construction, and often requires demolition of the structures on the disputed land – even though there is generally no evidence presented by Palestinians beyond a verbal claim. The district courts require evidence, which Palestinians often cannot furnish.

“Fifty years after the liberation of Yehudah and Shomron, the Knesset has finally ‘normalized’ life for Israelis who live there.” said Shaked. “As a result of this law, residents of Yehudah and Shomron can be considered equal to all other Israelis. They pay taxes, serve in the army, and fulfill their obligations to the state. There is no reason that they should be judged differently than residents of ‘Israel proper.’ Chevron, Ra’anana, Elon Moreh and Kiryat Shemona are all indivisible parts of the Land of Israel.”